Planning for Disney World is what I do, but planning for Disneyland is proving to be an entirely different matter. Joining the pilgrimage of Disney fans to Walt Disney’s original park? If you’re a Walt Disney World veteran, you’re going to need new skills for Disneyland planning. Or for some, old ones.
If you’ve been visiting Walt Disney World Resort long enough, you remember the days before FastPass+, My Disney Experience, even that weird blip when dining reservations were only available 90 days in advance. You remember planning your days with a much more loose feel, instead of racing from one reservation to the next. Of course, those days are gone. That knowledge is useless now.
Or is it? For Disney World veterans traveling to Disneyland Resort, planning a visit can feel like a return to form. So how does a Disneyland trip differ from a Walt Disney World trip? Dining, touring plans, getting around the resort, and fitting in extras and off-site adventures are all different with Disneyland planning. Let’s take a look.
Dining: 180 days prior to arrival, I’m rising with the sun to book Walt Disney World dining reservations. With a Disneyland trip, 180 days comes and goes without fanfare. You’ll have to wait until 60 days prior to your visit to make Disneyland dining reservations.
And I found that booking Disneyland dining isn’t the white-knuckle experience I usually have while trying to nail down a week’s worth of hard-to-get dining experiences at Disney World. (Possibly I should stop going to Orlando during Free Dining.) My experience was almost suspiciously simple. I just went to Disneyland’s website, clicked around leisurely, and booked what I wanted, when I wanted it. And, if you want to dine with me, there are plenty of seatings still available — just a few weeks away as I write this!
If you want a reservation for character dining or a signature dining experience such as the Napa Rose, you’ll still want to book as close to the 60-day mark as possible. But otherwise, the excellent reputation of Disneyland’s many eateries, both counter-service and table-service, seems to create a more balanced dining situation than Walt Disney World’s do-or-die hot list of restaurants.
Touring Plans: Of course, a Walt Disney World touring plan is a formidable thing these days. Working in your FastPass+ reservations, calculating the distance between reserved attractions, allowing for the possibility of being hemmed in by a parade, prioritizing your top three attractions, etc. — that all takes real effort! I find writing Disney World itineraries challenging, but the end result does seem a little comforting. The certainty of having every minute planned out doesn’t scream vacation to some, but it sure does look hassle-free once the planning is done.
And the simplicity of FastPass+ can grow on you! *Click* no wait for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad! *Click* no wait for Soarin’! (Insert happy cackle here.) I had to wonder if I even remembered how to plan for the erratic nature of FASTPASS return times. To say nothing of the anxiety I have just thinking about the fact that I might have to use a park map–something I haven’t done in years at Walt Disney World.
To make the most of our time without having first-hand experience (or a photographic memory of a park I know better than my own neighborhood) I’m using a slightly modified Disneyland 2-Day Plan B for Disneyland Park, and an optimized Touring Plan for Disney California Adventure, which includes FASTPASS suggestions and estimated return times, and allows for arriving early, a midday break, and staying late.
Transportation & Accomodations: I am taking the loss of my beloved Magical Express rather hard, since I like to enter the Disney bubble the moment I enter Terminal B at the airport and wave hello to the Cast Members with their Mickey Mitts. But with the Disneyland Resort Express, which goes straight from local airports (LAX, John Wayne) to the Disneyland Resort before making stops at area hotels, as well as other local shuttles and cabs in place, there are plenty of options to make it a little easier to deal with a non-magical transit experience.
And even staying off-site can offer easy access to Disneyland Resort: some Good Neighbor hotels are actually just as close to the Disneyland main entrance as on-site hotels. If walking is a little too far, Anaheim Resort Transportation’s (ART) trolley system is included in many Disneyland Good Neighbor packages, or passes can be added inexpensively: as little as $5 for a day pass, or $20 for a 5-day pass.
Staying at the Disneyland Hotel, Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa, or Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel also means you’re just steps away from Downtown Disney and the theme parks, promising plenty of fun without ever setting foot in a motorized vehicle. Once within the Disneyland Resort area, the utter lack of transportation (besides attractions like the monorail and the Main Street vehicles) promises to be a refreshing change of pace from a typical Disney World day for our family, which usually involves at least four buses and possibly a boat or two. Which leads us to…
Two Parks, One… Resort Area: Only two theme parks, three resort hotels, and Downtown Disney might feel like roughing it for Disney World veterans. For our part, I’d say that having less than 43 square miles for our vacation needs will be new, but I’m sure we’ll work through it. In addition to plenty of pool-time, we’re actually planning on going off-site, something that just doesn’t happen during our Disney World vacations. San Diego beckons, as do a few sites closer to the resort, including the new Anaheim Packing District, which boasts artisanal food vendors in a restored orange packing house.
Also within easy reach are all the sights of Hollywood, Universal Studios Hollywood, Knott’s Berry Farm, the Pacific Ocean, and plenty more to keep families busy. But if you can’t tear yourself away from Disney property yet, there’s a lot packed into Disneyland’s two theme parks which easily demands as much attention as Disney World’s four!
There are 52 attractions listed on the Disneyland Park map in The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland 2014. That doesn’t include the many extra details that aren’t “attractions” but are still unique Disneyland offerings. Entertainment like the Golden Horseshoe Revue, architectural detailing such as that around New Orleans Square, even historical relics from Walt Disney’s time, like the petrified tree stump that he famously gave to his wife for her birthday, are all part of Disneyland’s charm.
And that’s just Disneyland Park. Across the esplanade you have Disney California Adventure, adjacent you have Downtown Disney, and the resort hotels themselves. I’m especially looking forward to resort tours at Disneyland Hotel and at the Grand Californian Hotel.
All in all, for this Disneyland trip, I’ve given less time to planning and am allowing more time for exploration, both in and out of Disney’s boundaries, than I’ve been able to with any of our recent Walt Disney World vacations. While I certainly have a basic touring plan, airport transportation, and some table-service dining lined up, the detailed itinerary that includes careful calculations of travel times between parks and resorts, dining reservations and confirmation numbers, and FastPass+ windows isn’t coming with me this time. Disney World veterans heading to Disneyland for the first time, look forward to playing by new (and maybe familiar) rules when you visit Walt Disney’s original park.